Photo/Illutration Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi responds to questions from reporters at the ministry. (Mutsumi Mitobe)

Japan will not change its goal for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by fiscal 2030, a decision that is bound to spur international condemnation that Tokyo is not doing enough to deal with climate change.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had called on member nations to raise their goals in time for the U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP26) initially planned for November, but now postponed by the United Nations for a year due to the new coronavirus pandemic.

Under the Paris agreement on climate change, Japan in 2015 set a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent by fiscal 2030 in comparison with the level of fiscal 2013.

Despite Guterres' urging, sources said Japan would not raise its goal even though it emits the fifth largest volume of greenhouse gases.

With electric power companies facing problems in resuming operations of their nuclear power plants following the 2011 Fukushima disaster, Japan now depends on coal-fired thermal power plants for close to 80 percent of its power supply. 

As a review of the nation’s basic energy plan is not scheduled until 2021 at the earliest, government officials apparently decided that now is not the right time to raise its nationally determined contributions (NDC) toward fighting climate change.

However, the government will review its other measures to deal with global warming to determine if there are areas where contributions can be made in other ways. Those new proposals will be put together for COP26.

And Japan will not wait until 2025, the next deadline for submitting a new NDC under the Paris climate change agreement, but seek a review of its goal before then. As a long-term goal, Japan will make efforts “to realize a carbon-free society in a period as close as possible to 2050.”

At an April 3 news conference, Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi referred to a tweet by Patricia Espinosa, the executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, which said, “I trust that more ambitious targets will be set soon” by Japan in the wake of its submittal of an updated NDC.

Koizumi said that “Japan’s intentions have been passed on” to Espinosa.

Referring to the postponement of COP26 until 2021, Koizumi said, “The focus will be on the extent to which Japan can come up with additional measures” by that time.

Takejiro Sueyoshi, who heads the Japan Climate Initiative made up of companies and local governments, issued a statement that called on the government to raise its emissions goals before COP26 or Japan would be viewed globally as a nation that takes “a backward looking stance toward a carbon-free society.” The statement added that such an assessment would hinder Japanese companies trying to develop global business strategies.

A major goal of the Paris agreement is to restrain the level of global warming to under two degrees in comparison to before the Industrial Revolution, with a more ambitious goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees of pre-Industrial Revolution levels.

However, estimates are that at current greenhouse gas emission levels, global temperatures will rise by more than 3 degrees over pre-Industrial Revolution times.

To reach the goal of the Paris agreement, greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by 45 percent by 2030 in comparison to 2010. COP26 will be the first opportunity to review the NDC that comes around once every five years.

The Cabinet in 2016 approved a plan for meeting the goal set in 2015 that included various measures to deal with global warming.

(This article was written by Ichiro Matsuo, Mutsumi Mitobe and Toru Ishii, a senior staff writer.)